How to Choose the Best Diaper Pail

If you have a baby  then you are going to have diapers. No matter what variety you choose  you will need a good diaper disposal pail
Article By:
Juliet Spurrier, MD & BabyGearLab Team

Last Updated:
Monday
May 11, 2015

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One thing that every new parent quickly becomes familiar with is changing diapers. Which leads naturally to the question, "where do I put this poopy-diaper?"

Thankfully, until your newborn pooper starts eating solid foods (typically around 4-6 months age), the stink-factor remains relatively mild (whew). But, a new dawn arrives when your little one starts eating solids, then suddenly what was a mild smell issue at the diaper changing table becomes a full-on stink-a-torium smell factory.

This is where a specially designed diaper disposal pail comes into play. If you aren't committed to taking each individual diaper to an outside garbage, then you really should invest in a dedicated pail to do the job of stink containment.

Diaper Genie Essentials.  Easy to use  one-hand design.  Push-N-Lock clamp to seal away odor.
The Ubbi deposit door is an open hole with no odor containment features
Munchkin Arm & Hammer Diaper Pail has a one-handed operation that includes gently pushing the diaper through seal
Diaper Genie Elite.  Easy to use foot pedal that allows hands-free opening.
Baby Trend Diaper Champ Deluxe.  One-handed:  use handle to open receptacle  drop diaper in  and close handle.
The trap door on the Diaper Dekor Plus Kolor works best when diapers are heavy
 
The photos above show the different pails we tested in our review. From left to right the pails are: Diaper Genie Essentials, Ubbi, Munchkin, Diaper Genie Elite, Diaper Champ, and Diaper Dekor.

How Many Diapers Will My Baby Use in the First Year?


Review Editor RJ Spurrier shown holding two bags of "testing material" used in our hands-on stink-containment tests
Review Editor RJ Spurrier shown holding two bags of "testing material" used in our hands-on stink-containment tests
In the first year, your baby is going to go through 2,500 to 3,000 diapers, which will rise to a total of nearly 5,000 - 6,000 diapers over four years (depending on potty training). That's a mind-bogglingly large fact. The question of "where to put this dirty diaper" takes on a lot more meaning when you consider how many dirty diapers you're going to be dealing with.

Some parents simply carry poopy diapers to the trash can outside, one dirty diaper at a time. Those thousands of trips, often with baby in one hand and dirty diaper in the other, are a lot less convenient than putting them in a diaper pail, even if it is an effective odor containment solution. A diaper pail can save you all those trips by giving you a place to store dirty diaper near your changing station. You might be wondering, "why not use a regular trash can?" The answer is that you can use a regular trash pail to dispose diapers, with only mild odor issues, until your baby starts eating solid foods. However, once baby starts eating solids the stink from dirty diapers becomes a major issue that will need an alternative solution.

Kanga Care Diaper Pail Liner is one option for cloth diapers. Cloth diapers need a different kind of pail than disposables
Kanga Care Diaper Pail Liner is one option for cloth diapers. Cloth diapers need a different kind of pail than disposables
Because of the sheer volume of diapers you will be using, and thus adding to the landfill, you might be curious about biodegradable diapers and bags, or even cloth alternatives. We highly encourage you to review our articles about cloth diapering and Cloth Diapers vs. Disposable to get a better idea of the environmental impact disposable diapers have, and how easy cloth diapers have become in recent years to use. You might be surprised at how simple cloth diapering can be by reading Cloth Diapering Laundry Basics & Helpful Hints, and how you can avoiding adding mountains of non-biodegradable diapers and bio-hazardous human waste to our already overloaded landfills.

Biodegradable diapers are another story and one we think you should review carefully. Even if a diaper is truly biodegradable under the best of circumstances, it is unlikely that it will degrade in a traditional landfill with little access to the water and air required for degradation to occur. Given the FTC's recent determination that gDiapers brand disposable diapers can no longer claim biodegradability, it would seem that even they agree that once placed in a traditional landfill disposable diapers are unlikely to degrade for hundreds of years. Thus making this claim of being green or biodegradable a non-issue when determining what kind of diaper is best for the environment.

No matter what your final decision, you will need a pail to put the offensive packages in once baby produces them. If you go with disposables, even for a portion of the time, you will need to choose a great pail for disposable diapers.
Diaper Dekor Plus Kolor has a trap door for odor containment when adding new diapers
Diaper Dekor Plus Kolor has a trap door for odor containment when adding new diapers

Why Use a Specially Designed Diaper Pail?


A specially designed pail for diapers is going to offer significant odor containment advantages over a normal kitchen trash container. A product specifically made for diaper containment is designed to tightly seal in the odors created by baby in a way that normal kitchen trash cans cannot. However, simply sealing the pail tight isn't enough. Just as important is what happens when you open and close the pail to make a new deposit. The best products provide a specially designed mechanism for inserting a dirty diaper in the pail that minimizes the amount of stinky smell that escapes with each use. In addition, the best pails have a design that makes it easy to change a full bag without releasing excessive odors.

Key Considerations


We think the most important factors to consider when buying a diaper pail are the following:
  • Odor Control — how well does the pail contain the odor of stinky diapers? This includes while it is sitting there doing nothing and when a "fresh" diaper is added to the bag.
  • Total Cost of Ownership — what is the estimated total cost of owning and using the pail, including replacement diaper bag refills, over the estimated life of the product?
  • Ease of Diaper Disposal — how easy is it to dispose of a dirty diaper with one hand, with baby in the other?
  • Ease of Bag Change — how easy is it to change a full bag of dirty diapers, and does the process create nasty vomit inducing odors?

In our tests and ratings, we attempted to address each of these four factors, provide weighted metrics for each compared to the competition, and to create an overall score and ranking to determine the very best pails on the market. We placed the highest weight in our overall score on Odor Control (60% of total score) because we consider that to be the essential purpose of a diaper pail and the main reason parents decide to purchase one.

Keeping the Stink Down
Rinse poop off of the diaper into the toilet before placing in pail. This prevents adding bio-waste to the landfill and decreases overall smell. Roll diaper up tightly into a ball and attach adhesive tabs before putting it into pail. Change bag at least every 2 to 3 days to keep smells at bay. Wash pail with warm soapy cloth regularly. Dry pail. If smells persist, try drying open in the sunlight for UV assistance.

Challenges in Evaluating Diaper Pails


As a general rule, it is very hard for a new parent to fairly evaluate competing diaper disposal pails by visiting stores and carefully researching user-reviews. While in some categories you can touch and feel the products yourself in a retail environment, and get a real feeling for quality and differentiation, that doesn't work well with this kind of product. Pail performance really comes down to how it performs with real stinky diapers. You can't get that information in a retail store, and very few user reviews shed light on how competing products compare side-by-side. In addition, even if users make comments about odor, some are not realistic, relatable, or compare products side-by-side. Our tests were designed to fairly compare each product under normal use and under extreme circumstances, to give parents a complete picture on how well each product works and how it measures up to the competition. In the end, we discovered that when you put poop in a can it smells like poop in a can, however how bad the smell is does vary from product to product and some are refreshingly, virtually smell free.

As you can read in our How We Test section, we attempted to create a series of controlled tests that would allow us to rate each product versus the competition on the key metrics. It was literally a nasty testing process, but one we hope you'll appreciate and find informative.

Choosing the Right Pail


Choosing the right pail for you can be easily simplified by remembering a few key decision making points. Try not to get caught up in what a pail looks like or how well it might fit in with your nursery d├ęcor. At the end of the day you won't remember how pretty your diaper disposal is, but you will remember if your nursery smells like an open sewage plant.

Odor Control


Playtex Diaper Genie Elite has a carbon filter that should help cut odors However  we found it is more of a hassle and added cost than a help
Playtex Diaper Genie Elite has a carbon filter that should help cut odors However, we found it is more of a hassle and added cost than a help
We feel the most important factor in choosing a diaper disposal product is whether or not it controls odors. Given that this is the primary reason to purchase this type of product and it will determine whether or not you enjoy using the product it is hard to deny its importance. Two key performance components of odor control are overall containment of odors when the product is not actively being used, and how much odor escapes when a fresh diaper is added to the pot. In our tests we found that the pail that worked the best at keeping odors at bay is the Diaper Genie Essentials with a 9 out of 10 for this metric. This pail managed to be relatively odor free when sitting with poop inside, and its clamping mechanism works best at reducing odor transfer when placing a diaper inside. This helped to prevent the dreaded poof of foul air that much of the competition experienced when adding a new diaper. The Ubbi earned the lowest score in this metric with a 4, in part due to its diaper delivery system which entails an open diaper door that has no mechanism for limiting the amount of smells that can escape as you put the new diaper in the pail.

Ease of Disposal


The Ubbi door is easy to open once you know that you have to push down slightly before sliding the door back
The Ubbi door is easy to open once you know that you have to push down slightly before sliding the door back
The majority of the products in this review were relatively easy to use and disposing of a diaper wasn't too difficult for any of them, but that being said there were differences. Most of the pails can be used with one hand and if the interior bag is not full the process is pretty easy. However, the process can grow more difficult as the bag gets fuller. The Diaper Genie Elite had the high score in this metric with an easy to use foot pedal and almost hands free operation with a score of 8 out of 10. The Diaper Dekor Plus Kolor wasn't bad either, but its trap door did tend to get hung up on diapers inside as the bag got full. Our Best Value winner, the Diaper Champ Deluxe earned a 6 in this metric with an easy to rotate handle that works well as long as the bag inside isn't at capacity. The Arm and Hammer Munchkin earned the lowest score for disposal with a 3, and a lid that got hard to close as the interior bag twists with each new diaper.
Older toddlers might find placing toys in the diaper cup super fun on the Diaper Champ Deluxe
Older toddlers might find placing toys in the diaper cup super fun on the Diaper Champ Deluxe

Use the child safety lock when available to prevent little ones from gaining access to dirty diapers, sharp interior components, potentially suffocating plastics, or adding toys to the toxic mix of poop and pee. Also, never leave a lid open to prevent it from falling onto a child's fingers or hands.

Ease of Bag Changes


Munchkin Arm and Hammer pail has a proprietary bag that snaps closed and is easy to remove
Munchkin Arm and Hammer pail has a proprietary bag that snaps closed and is easy to remove
Changing bags might seem like a simple affair, but when it comes to pails for diapers it can be a highly convoluted process prone to mistakes and potential injuries. The Munchkin earned the highest score in this metric with an 8 and has a simple snap closure bag that is easy to install and contains odors fairly well when removing a full bag. Our Editors' Choice, the Diaper Genie essentials came in second place for this metric with an easy to cut proprietary bag that slips out the front of the pail and cuts and ties just the right amount of bag for each change. We struggled somewhat with the top heavy design of the Diaper Champ which resulted in its second to the lowest score for this test. And the Ubbi bag kept getting caught on the sides of the container as we tried to remove the bag and often tore on the teeth on the lid. Both issues can be resolved by removing bags before they get overfilled, and in the case of the Diaper Champ holding the pail down with one foot on the base while changing the bag.

The great thing about the Genie or Dekor systems is that the bag is cut to match content so bag space isn't wasted by frequent bag changes.

Lifetime Cost


Playtex Diaper Genie Essentials requires the purchase of proprietary bags. While somewhat expensive these bags allow you to use only as much bag as you need and they help keep odors under control
Playtex Diaper Genie Essentials requires the purchase of proprietary bags. While somewhat expensive these bags allow you to use only as much bag as you need and they help keep odors under control
Buying a pail is not the end of the story when it comes to cost, but just how much extra cost is involved depends on the product and how you use it. We made calculations based on manufacturer claims and our personal experience of how many diapers fit in each bag or refill and did a cost analysis of the lifetime cost of owning each product based on the same number of diapers being used with each unit. Even though the Diaper Genie Essentials earned the top score in our tests by a nice margin, it is one of the more expensive models to own over the course of your child's diaper wearing years. The average cost of ownership is somewhere over $300, which is still less than its more expensive brother the Elite which has not only proprietary bags, but a carbon filter to buy as well. If cost is a concern for your family and/or the idea of buying special bags for diapers has you cringing, you might want to consider our Best Value product, the Diaper Champ. While not as good at containing odors, this pail can be used with ordinary 13 gallon kitchen trash bags, which will save you money over time and cost you closer to $92 in your diapering lifetime.

Conclusion


Diaper Champ Deluxe has a lower lifetime cost because it can be used with ordinary kitchen trash bags
Diaper Champ Deluxe has a lower lifetime cost because it can be used with ordinary kitchen trash bags
The pail with the highest score in our tests is the Diaper Genie Essentials with an overall score that is 10 points higher than its closest competitor. It offers the best odor containment for both diaper additions and containment over time just sitting in the nursery. If preventing odor from permeating your nursery is a top priority and you aren't concerned with a higher lifetime investment or being trapped into buying proprietary bags, then the Essentials is the pail for you. If your expectations are that poop is going to smell a little, and you don't mind the occasional puff of poop and changing bags a little more frequently to keep odors at bay, then the Diaper Champ might be your pail of choice. With an easy to use rotating handle and ordinary kitchen bag refills, this economical choice is a great buy for parents who want a good product with a small lifetime investment.

Dr. Juliet Spurrier is founder and Mom-in-Chief at BabyGearLab
Juliet Spurrier, MD
About the Author
Dr. Juliet Baciocco Spurrier is a board certified pediatrician, mother of two, and founder of BabyGearLab. Juliet earned her Bachelor of Arts degrees in Anthropology and Italian Literature from the University of California at Berkeley and her Medical degree from Georgetown University School of Medicine in Washington DC. She completed her pediatric residency at the Doernbecher Children's Hospital at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, OR, and subsequently practiced pediatrics in both the Pacific Northwest and Silicon Valley. Juliet serves as Mom-in-Chief at BabyGearLab, where she oversees all baby product review activity, assuring that each review delivers on our commitment to quality.

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